By Steven Mauss, CEO and President at Knowledge Relay, Inc.

Knowledge Relay is deeply concerned about the future of the U.S. energy sector. Specifically, three critical issues are converging to create a potential crisis in the decade ahead: A skills deficit, a technological gap, and an entrenched bureaucracy hindering innovation. Let’s get a discussion going!

1. A Skills Gap Threatens Energy Security
The veteran workforce that has grown America’s energy infrastructure is reaching retirement age, being promoted out of operational roles, or moving to other industries. Unfortunately, the pipeline of young, replacement talent isn’t flowing fast enough to fill this dangerous void.

“The energy industry is at a crossroads, facing a skills shortage that could possibly threaten its growth and sustainability,” warns a recent industry article. “The demand for skilled professionals in this sector has never been higher.”

The new graduates in engineering, IT, cybersecurity, and Project Controls too often lack the specialized skills and in-depth knowledge necessary for U.S. power management. This skills gap not only jeopardizes our ability to maintain current infrastructure, but raises security and sustainability concerns as our critical infrastructure becomes stressed by:
An aging grid pushed to deliver more and more for a digital economy;
• Climate change—including, warns the EPA, rising temperatures and heat waves, cold and snow events, severe drought, intense rainfall, sea level rise, hurricanes, and wildfires;
Cyberattacks; and even,
Physical attacks from domestic terrorism, eco-terrorism, and nation state adversaries.

2. Falling Behind the Technology Curve
Tied to this looming skills deficit, the energy sector is undergoing a rapid transformation. Innovative technologies like automation, advanced analytics, artificial intelligence, and cybersecurity are necessary for efficiency, security, and sustainability. However, the U.S. energy sector is falling behind in adopting these advancements.

“Traditional energy companies can be slow to change—probably because they face some unique complications, such as health and safety risks, and the huge amount of capital invested in existing energy assets,” notes futurist Bernard Marr in a recent Forbes article. “But change they must, if they want to stay relevant in an increasingly competitive sector.”

We in the energy sector must embrace emerging technologies to optimize power grids, enhance cybersecurity, and integrate our complex energy systems seamlessly.

3. Bureaucratic Bottlenecks
The current model—where it is easy for Federal prime contractors to prioritize their revenues within a rigid government-industrial complex—stifles innovation and long-term planning. Big primes’ focus on short-term deliverables (e.g., putting as many consultants’ butts in seats as possible) hinders strategic investments in new technologies and future-proofing infrastructure development.

Any attempts at process efficiency or system automation (which jeopardize the endless growth of today’s leviathan bureaucracies) is downplayed or marginalized to keep prime contracts inflated. But without implementing best practices that allow the power industry to support our evolving energy needs with fewer professional staff, we are risking blackouts long before the next cyberattack or big winter storm even hit.

A Call to Action: A Collaborative Approach for a Secure Energy Future
The time for slow, incremental change may have passed. I urge the Department of Energy, in conjunction with industry leaders, to address these critical issues head-on.

At Knowledge Relay we propose:

  • Investing in Workforce Automation for Efficiency and Greater Resilience—this means not just launching initiatives to attract and retain skilled personnel, but adopting advanced IT, data monitoring, reporting and visualization solutions that allow smaller teams to make critical operating decisions quickly and safely.
  • Embracing Technology Advancements—which requires establishing a new vision for technology adoption in the energy sector as the U.S. economy moves increasingly digital. Partnering with industry leaders to incentivize investments in automation, cybersecurity, and grid modernization solutions . . . including forecasting and what-if solutions that elevate Project Management across complex energy systems from generation to transmission, control, and distribution.
  • Forging a More Collaborative Government-Industrial Complex—we must revisit contract vehicles and project funding to foster collaboration and innovation among prime contractors, innovative small contractors, academia, and research institutions. Let’s prioritize long-term national energy security over short-term revenues for the “Bigs.”

The U.S. energy sector has long been the backbone of our nation’s progress. However, without immediate action, we risk rolling blackouts, vulnerabilities in infrastructure, and a stagnant industry.

Let us work together to ensure a bright, secure energy future for generations to come!

Contact me today to schedule a discussion or a whiteboarding session to explore these looming issues.

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